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Instead, he’s fast becoming known as the leader of the generation that would destroy Page.
Situated at the lake’s southernmost tip, the town of Page was first created by the government to house the myriad workers needed to build the dam. Mike Woods, the town’s mayor, moved with his family to Page when he was a boy, his father taking work as a dam inspector. "The town lived and breathed by the construction of that dam," he says.
Today, Page has grown to a population of nearly 8,500, providing services to another 8,000 beyond city limits. It has its own hospital, K-12 schools and junior college. Many of the students are drawn from the neighboring Navajo reservation, home to nearly 23,000 Native Americans. Melvin Bautista, executive director of the nation’s Division of Natural Resources, says the town, and by extension the lake, is the economic and social lifeblood for the Navajo Nation.
Each year, upward of 2.5 million visitors behold the glowing, multimillennial sandstone rising from Lake Powell’s silver-sheeted surface, a testament to the force of humanity and nature combined. So massive is this 186-mile-long lake that at the height of the summer tourist season, when hundreds of anglers are casting their lines into the world-class trout fishery and thousands of houseboats take to the water until it resembles a floating trailer park, it is still possible to retreat into stillness in one of the scores of secret side canyons. "Without Lake Powell," Woods says, "Page would literally dry up and blow away."
Werbach discounts this claim, says the town could find other ways to survive, even flourish. And perhaps this is so. But in downplaying the concerns of the town, Werbach has subordinated the potential human toll to the lure of visionary causes. Which leaves him standing in direct opposition to his professed quest for a more human-oriented movement.
Last September, in a hearing before two congressional subcommittees, Werbach faced off against his foes. In his appeal, Werbach called the now-submerged canyon one of the "crown jewels of the Colorado plateau" and "a place more mysterious than the Grand Canyon." He declared that the dam and the lake are overtaxing the river, and will lead to its destruction. "We are not being good stewards of this resource," he said. "Nor are we providing a safe future for our children in the way we are abusing water."
And he insisted that draining the lake is of critical importance to the future health of the environment. That comment peeved Larry Tarp, a Page resident and head of Friends of Lake Powell, who also testified at the hearing. "Tell me the critical importance," he says. "Other than perhaps to Adam Werbach’s friendship with David Brower."
It’s a relevant question, especially given what Werbach knows that most other people don’t, not even those who live in Page and follow these matters closely: Lake Powell is not the first body of water to fill Glen Canyon. Some 1.8 million years ago, another lake existed there, formed by the lava flows of a nearby volcano. Prospect Lake, as it has come to be known among geologists, was more than twice as large as Lake Powell. Over the course of several hundred years, the lake filled with sediment, and the river gradually washed the dam away. Altogether, there were 13 such volcanic dams along the Colorado. They are long gone, and the river appears to have survived their incursions unscathed.
Of course, Werbach didn’t mention any of this at the hearing, which ended in something of a draw. Afterward, both sides vowed to dig in their heels for what will likely be a lengthy battle — even the most optimistic dam busters acknowledge that draining Lake Powell won’t be easy.
Within the Sierra Club and beyond, few activists have rallied to the cause. Says Jay Watson of the Wilderness Society: "It’s hard to take it seriously in the near-term." Ann Weschler, head of the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club, calls the push "a whimsical and capricious act," especially since she and her clubmates fear that a highly publicized campaign might distract resources and attention from a yearslong campaign to protect large tracts of Utah wilderness. "It’s a function of the age of David Brower and the youth of Adam Werbach," she says. "When you put those two together, it’s combustible."
None of this has shaken Werbach’s resolve. "If we can reclaim Glen Canyon from the jaws of our past folly, we can restore the rest of the destroyed environment," he says. "No problem is too large, no challenge insurmountable. This is our chance to move beyond putting Band-Aids on problems. This is our chance to make things better."
For some longtime club members, though, proj ects like Glen Canyon are not what the club is about. Past Si erra Club president and current board member Michele Perrault acknowledges, "We have to find ways to capture people’s attention." But, she says, "I’m not sure these symbolic issues are the way to do it. You have to develop lifelong interest. That takes more than something symbolic."